IOWA CITY — The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, said Henry David Thoreau, but big-time college basketball wasn’t a thing when he was philosophizing in the 19th Century.
In the Big Ten, everyone knows when you’re getting desperate. Sunday's Nebraska-Iowa men’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (4:31 p.m., BTN) matches teams that want to nip conference slides in the bud.
In the visitor’s corner is a Nebraska team picked to be among the league’s upper crust, but has two losses in three league games. The Huskers led Minnesota by 11 points midway through the second half before losing 85-78 in Minneapolis last month, and were beaten 74-72 at Maryland last Wednesday when the Terrapins’ Jalen Smith hit a jumper with 3.8 seconds left.
In the home corner is an Iowa club that has spent the last several weeks in the national rankings, but sits 0-3 where it matters, in the Big Ten. The latest loss was an 86-70 drubbing at Purdue last Thursday in which the Hawkeyes trailed by as much as 26 points.
Sunday, one team gets a piece of redemption. Just one.
“It’s a big one for us,” understated Iowa’s Tyler Cook on Friday.
Yes. The wolves back in Iowa were howling at the moon after the Hawkeyes’ dreadful defensive display in the first half of the Purdue game, when the Boilermakers had easy hoop after easy hoop and shot 63 percent from the floor. Iowa’s three league opponents are averaging 51.1 percent. That bears an uncanny resemblance to the defensive prowess — or lack of it — of last year’s Hawkeyes in Big Ten play when they went 4-14.
Nebraska didn’t make the NCAA Tournament last year despite being nine games better than Iowa in the conference. That was a condemnation of both the Huskers’ overall schedule and the Big Ten’s strength. But this looks like an NCAA team, with three fine seniors who are Juniors.
It starts with forward James Palmer Jr., who averages 20.1 points per game. Like his frontcourt partner, Isaac Copeland Jr. (14.1 ppg), Palmer is an inside/outside scorer. Then you have guard Glynn Watson Jr., who had 34 points in a game against Iowa as a sophomore. He’s good for 13.5 points and four assists a game.
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“It’s a veteran group that’s very talented,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Friday.
“Everybody kind of understands their role. They have a team that I think really — a team of pieces that fit. They have guys that can go get a bucket. They can score in transition, they can score in set plays. You know, from my estimation they’re a very unselfish group. They’re committed to winning. They won 13 games in our league last year. You know, they’re difficult to guard. They’re explosive. They can score in bunches.
“So we can’t have kind of what we had last night where we’re playing pretty well and then a run comes. This team is very capable of a big run.”
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